Sometime between North Korea’s 12th and 13th missile test this year, I thought to myself: why yes, a lavender plant would do quite nicely on my balcony. There is something about a lavender plant, all pert and purple, that just doesn’t scream nuclear war, and so I bought one and have tended to it amid escalating tensions.
It is not that I necessarily think the world is heading to war, only that it is a notion very hard to disprove. The lavender especially gets very droopy when it has not been watered in more than a day. It has a limp way of proclaiming: of course you are worried about a geopolitical conflagration, but I am thirsty so come here instead.
A report in The Washington Post this month caught my attention because it covered ground that was probably true but little expressed. “Millennials are filling their homes — and the void in their hearts — with houseplants,” the headline reads. I recall yelling out to my modest Dracaena deremensis, all deep green and voluminous in the corner, that the reporter had stumbled on to an essential truth.
I was born into generation Y, but whoever it is that comes up with names for generations (I’m assuming it is someone who still owns rollerskates) has shifted the boundaries again and, at 30, I qualify as a millennial.
This hurts, to be honest, because I am old enough to have nearly made the mistake of buying a MiniDisc player during the 1.2 years they were relevant. Still, our broad friendship group has much in common. We are staring down the gauntlet of an increasingly casualised workforce assailed from another side by automation, face rising student debt and have been handed a housing market that is harder to get into than a Murakami novel. The one thing we are assured of possessing is a planet that smokes more than an inner-city slumlord.
Perhaps we do live our lives at the precipice of loneliness (I read on the back of a brochure that all of us are single, vain and spiritual malingerers) but it is a necessary condition of resilience training for the world we shall inherit.
If we can’t cure this malaise with indoor plants that, like me, love dappled sunlight, then we are down to stacking our rented apartments with hermit crabs, which is cheaper than installing a hall of mirrors but has the same effect.
We cannot have dogs, for the most part, because the landlords won’t allow them. Cats are fine, I suppose, but you’ll remember we’ve already spurned loveless relationships. Plants are cheerful and airy additions to our homes and, if you have even a smidge more dedication to caring for them than I do, they are also alive.
My ficus plant has three leaves. It is obviously meant to have more but they all fell off during a prolonged bout of inattention (mine). A bromeliad with a brilliant red flower spike is properly rooted, in the other sense, and I am left wandering around, chastising the specimens that remain for not getting better. I imagine this is how you teach a four-year-old child violin.
So while the experts agree plants can make us happier, even healthier, I am increasingly worried and nervous about mine and whether they are dying purely to spite me. I’d like to create a herb garden, too, but I don’t have the time.
In its article, the Post cited a trendy New Yorker who spends four hours on weekends tending his collection of houseplants, hanging gardens and, presumably, massive ego.
Four hours! I can’t even spend 20 minutes on something living before assuming it hates me. I come from a long line of gardeners in that old British tradition but my fate was sealed at age four when I listened to my brother.
Our mum had asked us to go and pick some carrots for dinner from our enormous vegetable garden. I became convinced by my brother that we had to pick every single carrot. So we did. We returned triumphantly with a bucket filled with the things and met our fate.
Whatever existential angst millennials are papering over with their urban jungles, I hope it works. I have a collection of my own but found dead houseplants have only added to my woes.
Having said that, I have always wanted a grass tree and if Kim Jong-un lets another rocket go, I’m off to Bunnings.